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Teachers cleared in Sex Cases

Were police too quick to believe historical sex abuse claims?

The paedophile, Carl Beech [BBC link], whose false claims of abuse against public figures were once described as "credible and true" by police - has been sentenced to 18 years for perverting the course of justice. In the aftermath of the Jimmy Savile scandal, were police too quick to believe historical sex abuse allegations?

Simon Warr

Simon Warr was a teacher at boarding schools in Suffolk for most of his career.

He was 59 when his life changed in 2012, with a bang on the door one September morning at 07:15.

"Four police officers swept past me, pushing me on to the cabinets, and the fifth read me my rights."

A former pupil had alleged he had been touched inappropriately after a PE lesson 30 years earlier.

"I said to the police, 'I don't teach PE, I don't teach 12-year-olds games'," he says, "but they just wouldn't listen."

“had no intention of getting to the bottom [of this]”

His arrest took place just months after the Jimmy Savile scandal and since then, 6,617 suspects have been identified by detectives investigating historical child abuse allegations in Operation Hydrant set up in 2014 to oversee claims of "non-recent" abuse in institutions or by people of public prominence.

Some 7,396 possible crimes on its database have now had a final outcome. Of those 71% (5,250) did not end in a conviction.

injusticebusters.org editorial: 5,250 people and families had their lives destroyed.

Critics say police and prosecutors were often too quick to believe victims' accounts before they could be properly investigated.

Details of Simon Warr's arrest were broadcast on BBC that evening.

His diary, photos, computer and phone were confiscated and, he says, used by officers to contact "numerous" former pupils.

"The police tried desperately for others to come forward."

"When they went to see former pupils... it was made quite clear I was going to be prosecuted and they were looking for people strong enough to say I'd done similar things to them."

"They had no intention of getting to the bottom of what happened. It certainly turns the whole edict of 'innocent until proven guilty' on its head."

“there is a sort of complete neglect of the presumption of innocence”

In the past it had been very difficult for victims of historical abuse to get any form of justice. From 1988, those accused lost an automatic right to anonymity. A crucial ruling in 1990 meant separate allegations no longer needed to be "strikingly similar" to be considered together at trial. In 2014, guidance was issued which said, when a crime is recorded, "the presumption that a victim should always be believed should be institutionalised".

University of Oxford's Dr Ros Burnett says there is a real danger the "pendulum" of proof in historical cases has shifted too far. "The trouble with removing all those barriers and making it easier for genuine victims is that you also make it easier for people who, for one reason or another, are accusing the wrong people," she says. "The possibility of false allegations has almost been airbrushed away. And so there is a sort of complete neglect of the presumption of innocence."

Rape Crisis said false allegations of rape, and sexual abuse were rare but had "disproportionate media focus".

injusticebusters.org editorial: If it's your son who is the target of a false allegation is the media focus "disproportionate"?

Those representing the accused say even a small number of false allegations can have huge consequences.

“If you are accused of child abuse... It stays with you for the rest of your life”

Six months after his arrest, he was told a second former pupil had come forward alleging he was abused. Both were old classmates and friends. Both had already been awarded compensation in a different abuse case at the same school.

Warr says he received threatening emails. A Facebook post said if he killed himself it would be the "best Christmas present ever".

By that stage, he adds: "I wasn't eating, I wasn't sleeping. I was a wreck."

It took almost two years for his case to come to trial.

His barrister told the jury he had never taught a single PE lesson. A complainant and a witness both changed key details of their stories. More than 20 ex-pupils, parents and teachers gave evidence in his defence.

It took the jury only 40 minutes to find him not guilty.

Simon Warr cried with relief.

"I'll never get those years back," he says. "But it's not just the fact my life could have been ruined. One of the biggest tragedies of cases like mine is that it makes it more difficult for people who have actually been abused to be believed."

"If you are accused of child abuse, you will be inextricably tied to that forever," he says. "It stays with you for the rest of your life."


Teacher cleared in sex case says trials ruined life

A Vernon, B.C., teacher who was found not guilty of sexually assaulting a student says her five-year legal ordeal has devastated her career and her finances.

Deborah Ashton, 48, was acquitted on two counts of perjury in the B.C. Supreme Court in Vernon on Friday, 16 months after she was acquitted on charges she had sex with a Grade 7 student. A previous trial on the sex charges resulted in a hung jury.

"There were times we felt these charges were outrageous and we had no chance of battling back against them. And it hurt," Ashton told reporters outside the court in her first public comments on the accusations made against her.

Ashton says her three trials have cost her nearly $100,000. Paired with losing her career, she says she's financially ruined.

"The financial devastation is one, it's quite another thing to have the profession you love taken from you," she said.

But the former elementary school teacher says she can finally move on with her life, now that she has been cleared of all allegations.

"It's been such a long road. All I have today is an opportunity to thank the people who stood by me right from the beginning," she said.


Teacher compensated for false sex assault charges

An elementary school teacher's fight to clear his name ended with an out-of-court settlement with the Ottawa police.

Fred Rutledge launched a lawsuit against police when he was cleared of sexual assault charges.

“there will always be a little cloud hanging over me”

He was teaching at a community school when he was charged with sexually assaulting three 13-year-old girls in 1998. He'll never forget that day. "My name was blasted every 30 minutes on the radio," he recalls.

Three months later, the Ottawa Crown Attorney dropped the charges.

Rutledge considered suing the trio of 13-year-olds but decided to sue the police.

Sean Dewart, the lawyer representing Rutledge, says the settlement is a huge vindication for his client and likens the case to a witchhunt because his accusers took their complaints to police even after the school and the board investigated and found them spurious.

Despite the vindication, life can never be the same again. "I feel it's compromised my chances for advancement," Rutledge says. "Even though my name has been cleared, there will always be a little cloud hanging over me."

The utter absence of evidence did not prevent the police from arresting him. Convinced that they had stumbled on a vast cover-up, they also laid charges against a school social worker, the vice-principal and the principal for failure to report his crimes.

The arresting officer hadn't interviewed anyone but the girls themselves. He'd become convinced the adults were all covering for each other.

Staff Sgt. Richard Dugal of the Ottawa police says the out-of-court settlement is simply an acknowledgement something went wrong in this specific case.

injusticebusters.org editorial: "something"? DUH!